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Researcher Christopher Lovejoy embedding 'organoids', photo : Charlie Murphy

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Dr Selina Wray placing neuronal cultures into incubator, photo : Charlie Murphy

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Colonies of neuronal cultures seen under miscroscope, Dr Selina Wray checking progress of neuronal cultures, photo : Charlie Murphy

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Dr Selina Wray checking progress of neuronal cultures, photo : Charlie Murphy

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Checking the progress of 3D neuronal cultures, photo : Charlie Murphy

Dementia Research

Dr Selina Wray leads research, investigating why abnormalities in an important protein called ‘tau’ can lead to brain cell death in different kinds of dementia to better understand the role of genes in the development of these conditions.

Using innovative stem cell technologies which facilitate a kind of ‘reverse engineering’, Selina is able to ‘reprogramme’ skin cells into stem cells which are a kind of “master cell” capable of forming any of the cell types in our body.

These stem cells are then ‘directed’ to become brain cells (neurons) “in a dish” which are nurtured over many months to create complex neuronal (brain cell) cultures. These extraordinary brain tissues – grown in 2 dimensional and now more three dimensional formats (cerebral organoids) outside of the body are offering scientists unique and valuable insights into the evolutionary development and some of the mechanisms of health and disease in our living brains (‘in vivo’) .

Working with small samples of skin donated by people living with Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), familial Alzheimer’s Disease (fAD) and ‘control’ participants, Selina’s research investigates why brain cells generated from people living with these kinds of dementia behave differently to those from control participants.

Witnessing the careful nurturing and transformations of their skin cells as they are transformed into brain cell cultures at Selina’s lab, the Brains team are researching ways of communicating and opening up these radical/cutting edge new scientific capabilities and breakthroughs to wide public audiences through a range of publications, artworks, public engagement events and broadcasts.

Developing an innovative range of creative tools and literary works intended to raise awareness of the valuable insights this field of research can offer our understandings of the brain, the Brains in a Dish project also aims to inform and promote, critique and debate around the profound ethical questions raised by these technologies and the curiously scant regulation of their use worldwide.

Dr Selina Wray and PhD student Christopher Lovejoy are based at the UCL Institute of Neurology.

Their research is funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) . Selina has recently been awarded the David Hague Early Career Investigator of the Year Award 2018 (

The Wray lab is supported by: